Kyiv Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marriage industry sees changes

24 March 2005, 10:08

·        

Serhiy Zavalnyuk
Ukrainian marriage agencies are
increasingly expanding their business
outside of Kyiv, experts say.

With fewer Ukrainian women seeking Western husbands, a sometimes ambiguous industry is shifting its focus

erful Ukrainian women are, the country would be empty by now,” says American Brett Ousley, who owns the Kiev Connections marriage agency.

Looking at the numbers, his belief doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Almost 80 percent of women involved in the marriage industry in Eastern Europe are Ukrainian. Despite ethical ambiguities, the business has experienced a boom over the last decade, due primarily to two factors: the popularity of Slavic women in the West and low living standards in post-Soviet countries, which stimulate women to look for husbands abroad.

Recently, however, the trends have changed. Fewer Ukrainian women are expressing interest in marrying foreigners, making competition between international dating services fiercer. Specialists say that smaller dating businesses might have trouble surviving.

“When we started our business two and a half years ago and ran one small ad in Aviso magazine, we got almost a hundred girls [to register with our agency] a month,” said Ousley. “After the last really heavy advertising in the same magazine, we got very few girls.”

Ousley links such changes to a rise in living standards in Kyiv, and to the proliferation of the Internet, which makes it easier for English-speaking Ukrainian women to contact foreigners without an agency’s help. Simpler visa regimes may also permit foreign men to come to Ukraine and look for wives on their own, Ousley added.

But while Ousley thinks that the marriage industry is generally a “dying” one, he is confident his agency will stay on the market for a long time. Its main advantage, Ousley says, is its personal approach.

“Unlike large international dating agencies, such as European Connections, Anastasia, and A Foreign Affair, we are a very personalized business,” said Ousley.

He said his Kiev Connections offers only individual matchmaking, with one-on-one introductions – as opposed to services at other agencies, which might stage introductions at parties or in groups.

And as the agency has been successful from a marriage standpoint – averaging more than one engagement every week – it is now attracting clients, both foreign men and Ukrainian women, mostly through word of mouth, says Ousley.

Taking the tour

Andriy Godlevsky, director of the local office of A Foreign Affair, an American-owned international dating agency, says his business has been stable over the last five years, largely due to expansion beyond the capital.

Since 2000, A Foreign Affair’s Ukrainian office has been supporting organized romance tours to Ukraine for American men. The recent trend in the business, says Godlevsky, is a shift to the country’s provinces.

“While girls in Kyiv get better jobs and have become more independent nowadays, women in other Ukrainian cities have not experienced any major changes and are, therefore, still seeking the opportunity to marry a foreigner,” said Godlevsky.

Godlevsky’s office organizes four tours a year, with some 25 to 30 American men on each. The average client, according to him, is a man in his 40s with a middle-class income. But occasionally an agency even helps millionaires, says Godlevsky.

The tour is not cheap. Each client pays more than $3,000 for his ten-day tour. But Godlevsky says at least 3 out of 30 men on the tour usually find partners who they want to marry.

During the tours, men and women meet at socials, where there are normally five women for every man, Godlevsky said.

Ousley of Kiev Connections has criticized socials.

“Socials were nice, but only years ago. Today they attract women-butterflies who like to have free drinks and want to take advantage of the foreigners rather than start a serious relationship.” said Ousley. He noted that “a nice girl would hardly like to be treated like a piece of meat.”

Certain expectations

Both Ousley and Godlevsky said their agencies are on the lookout for scams launched by women, and they refuse to service clients who behave inappropriately toward women.

“When a client says something like ‘Well, will she have sex with me on the first day?’ I ask him to leave,” said Ousley. He added that inappropriate behavior from some men can stem from misconceptions they may have about Ukraine.

“Some have this stereotype that a 65-year-old, fat, bald foreign guy arrives at the Borispol airport and has women throwing themselves on him, all of whom [are] 18-year-old models. That’s not true,” said Ousley. A man can hope for something only if he has realistic expectations, Ousley added.

A huge issue in the marriage business, experts agree, is scamming. And it’s not just the girls who are apt to cheat the foreigners.

“Some agencies make their profits from charging clients for a made-up correspondence with a nonexistent woman,” said Godlevsky, explaining why foreign clients may be wary of small and Ukrainian-owned dating services.

Godlevsky said such incidents cast a shadow on the rest of the business.

Ousley agreed, calling the marriage industry “the worst industry I’ve ever seen” when it comes to its bad reputation. Apart from scamming, the sex trade and female trafficking are also often associated with dating and marriage services, he said.

Here to stay

Nevertheless, the services offered by agencies like Kiev Connections and A Foreign Affair remain popular.

Forty three-year-old Greg is a Canadian who works as a family doctor. He came to Ukraine a couple of days ago to see a girl he met over the Internet and had corresponded with for six months. After the girl did not show up, Greg found himself alone in “a big cold city not knowing [the] language.” He headed to A Foreign Affair’s office, hoping to find “a nice girl to spend his remaining time in Ukraine with.”

“I do not intend to find a wife in these nine days that I am here,” says Greg. “I understand you’ve got to be really lucky for that to happen. But I also understand foreign men, who hope to accomplish this dream in [a] short [time].

“Ukrainian women are beautiful and have the traditional values, which is very important for Western men. That’s why they’re so popular,” Greg said.

Marriage agencies’ owners, meanwhile, have long-term plans for developing their business here.

“I would be happy to know that tomorrow Ukraine will be a rich country, but unfortunately, this is not going to happen. And I believe there will always be people who will need my service,” said Ousley.

Natalia Lukyanova, an owner of the Friends in Kiev marriage agency, agrees. She says that recent political developments in the country will help the business rather than halt it.

“The trend is a bigger flow of foreigners to the country. And tell me, how can a single foreigner resist the temptation to meet a beautiful Ukrainian girl?” Lukyanova said.

 

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